Between 1986 and 1996, the number of students with learning disabilities (LDs) who were educated in regular classrooms increased by nearly 20 percent, whereas the percentage served in resource rooms or separate classes decreased substantially (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999). When we consider that many students were first identified as being learning disabled precisely because of their lack of academic success in general education classrooms, we must ask, Is it educationally reasonable to place these students back in inclusive classrooms?
To Include or Not To Include
To answer this question, Genevieve Manset and Melvyn Semmel (1997) investigated the academic achievement gains of students with mild LDs in a variety of inclusion programs. They found that inclusive programming effects were not impressive. Further, Spencer Salend and Laurel Garrick-Duhaney (1999) found that inclusion programs effectively meet the education needs of only some students with mild disabilities. Other students, however, perform better academically when they receive instruction through such traditional special education models as resource rooms.
Nancy Waldron and James McLesky (1998) compared the academic progress of elementary students in inclusion programs with students in noninclusion programs. In reading, more students with mild LDs made progress that was comparable to their grade-level peers in inclusive settings than did students with mild LDs who were educated in non-inclusive settings. In mathematics, the setting did not influence the proportion of students with mild or severe LDs who made progress that was comparable to their grade-level peers. According to the researchers, these results are similar to previous investigations that found small or nonsignificant differences on measures of academic achievement for students with mild disabilities in inclusive settings when compared to students who were placed in more traditional special education classes.
Naomi Zigmond and her colleagues (1995) investigated the effectiveness of three classroom inclusion models. Although representing different approaches, the three building-level models shared some common features: classes had a regular teacher and a special education teacher, included special small-group instruction for students who had learning problems, and used cross-age tutoring. Although these models required tremendous financial and professional resources, the outcomes were disappointing. After one year, a majority (63 percent) of the LD students did not register average or better than average achievement gains, and many LD students slipped behind at a disturbing rate. General education settings produced achievement outcomes for students with LDs that were neither desirable nor acceptable. After a year of fully integrated educational programs and services in an inclusion setting, approximately half the students with LDs had unsatisfactory achievement outcomes.
Douglas Martson (1996) examined the academic progress of students with LDs in three instructional settings to determine which produced the greatest academic achievement. One setting was an inclusion model that provided students instruction in a general education classroom from a regular teacher and a special education teacher. The second was a pullout-only model that offered students instruction exclusively from a special education teacher in a resource room. The third setting, a combination of these two models, provided students with instruction in an inclusion classroom supplemented by periodic instruction in a resource room.
Teacher assessments of student achievement showed that the combined-service model received the highest rating and the inclusion-only model received the lowest rating. Martson also measured the reading skill attainment of students by comparing the number of words that students in each setting could read correctly in the fall with the number that they could read correctly in the spring. In the fall, the inclusion-only students could read an average of 28.82 words correctly, the combined-services students could read 25.67, and the pullout students could read 24.45. In the spring, the number of words increased for all three instructional models. Inclusion-only students read an average of 46.85, the combined-services students read 56.28, and the pullout students read 42.22.
These results indicate that the reading progress of students in the combined model was significantly better than in either the inclusion or the resource-room-only model. The average gain of the combined-model group increased from the 15th to the 20th percentile, whereas the pullout-only and inclusion-only groups had no change in relation to normative groups.
The research suggests that any criteria for judging the effectiveness of inclusion programs must include the entire scope and quality of services available to students with LDs. What the field of special education needs is not a narrow view of services for students with disabilities, but rather a commitment to the thoughtful use of the complete array of educational opportunities. A shared commitment by regular and special education teachers will ensure that all students receive a variety of learning opportunities in all education settings.
Manset, G., & Semmel, M. (1997). Are inclusive programs for students with mild disabilities effective? A comparative review of model programs. Journal of Special Education, 31(2), 155–181.
Martson, D. (1996). A comparison of inclusion only, pullout-only, and combined-service models for students with mild disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 30(2), 121–133.
National Center for Educational Statistics (1999). The Condition of Education [Online]. Washington, DC: Author. Available: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs99 /condition99/indicator-20.html
Salend, S., & Garrick-Duhaney, L. (1999). The impact of inclusion on students with and without disabilities and their educators. Remedial and Special Education, 20(2), 114–126.
Waldron, N., & McLesky, J. (1998). The effects of an inclusive school programs on students with mild and severe learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64(3), 395–505.
Zigmond, N., Jenkins, J., Fuchs, L., Deno, S., Fuchs, D., Baker, J., Jenkins, L., & Couthino, M. (1995, March). Special education in restructured schools: Findings from three multi-year studies. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(7), 531–540.
John H. Holloway is Project Director, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ 08541; firstname.lastname@example.org.